The Smallest Academic Libraries in the United States and Electronic Technology

By Burkhardt, Joanna M. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

The Smallest Academic Libraries in the United States and Electronic Technology


Burkhardt, Joanna M., Reference & User Services Quarterly


In this study, the directors of the smallest academic libraries in the United States (monographic collections of fewer than 30,001 volumes) were surveyed to determine the types and extent of electronic technology available in these small libraries and how that technology was being used. The survey was also designed to gain some insight into the satisfaction of both users and library staff with the electronic technology offered. The results of the study indicate that most of the smallest academic libraries are providing electronic technology in a variety of formats. Both users and staff find the electronic technology useful and, in some cases, time saving. Correlation analysis indicates that instruction is positively linked to both the amount of use given to electronic technology and the satisfaction with the results of that use. Most of the library directors surveyed indicated that they plan to expand their offerings in this area in the near future.

Academic libraries vary greatly in size, in specialization of collections, in services offered, and in budget allocations. In the past, small academic libraries have had difficulty offering holdings and services that parallel those found in larger libraries. However, an outcome of the budget cuts in recent years has been a shift in the philosophy of collection development in many libraries from ownership to access.[1] Economic necessity has promoted the development of electronic tools needed to offer access, which has revolutionized the delivery of information. The relative affordability of new electronic services offers new options. Small academic libraries can now offer access to information on a scale to rival large academic libraries.

The impact of technology on library employees, library patrons, and library services has been extensively discussed in the literature.[2] In addition, some articles have addressed academic branch libraries,[3] However, very little has been written about small academic libraries, which may or may not be branch libraries, especially in terms of the electronic services they offer. The purpose of this survey is to explore the types of and the availability of technological resources in small academic libraries. The picture that emerges from the data is of a recent and explosive increase in the technology available to library users in small academic libraries, a development embraced by library staff and library users alike.

Survey Methodology

This survey was supported by the University of Rhode Island in fall 1994. The eight-question survey instrument was developed to elicit information from the directors of America's smallest academic libraries (those holding fewer than 30,001 monographic volumes) on the kinds of technology each library has, the funding sources used to purchase those technologies, the types of technological services offered to the public, and a general sense of how both library staff and library patrons evaluate the usefulness of the services offered. Each question contained a list of choices from which library directors could select one or more answers. Space was left for additional explanatory comments. Four additional questions requested specifics on monographic and periodical collection size, FTE staff, and hours of operation.

In examining the listings for academic libraries in the American Library Directory, there appears to be a natural break in collection size at about 30,000 volumes. Very few academic libraries reported monographic collections between 30,000 and 50,000 volumes. Since the focus of this survey is on the smallest academic libraries, this break was used to identify those institutions. (Many questions allowed library directors to select more than one answer. As a result, the percentages do not add up to 100 percent in the tables.)

Survey Results

There were 385 college and university, junior college, community college, and technical college libraries identified in the American Library Directory as having monographic collections totaling 30,000 volumes or less.

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